22,630 Days

I wash my hands often. I watch the news, and like everyone else I’ve become a coronavirus expert. Although I’m part of the high-risk age group, I’m not particularly worried.

What I am worried about is that, at 62, I’m running out of time to do all the things I want to do — and there’s still so much on my list.

Counting life in days (I’ve been on this earth for 22,630 of them) makes a birthday seem less consequential, as just another day among thousands. However, as we age, and despite all the things we’ve accumulated throughout our lives — jobs, vacations, homes, books, our friends and family — we’re still led to one inevitable conclusion: We have less time.

According to the Spanish writer Vicente Verdú, time has become one of the world’s true luxuries in the 21st century — the time, as he suggests, to do nothing but watch a child playing, free of the anxiety of the clock; the time to live in the moment.

So I have taken Verdú’s advice. These days, I try to waste as little time as possible.

Or, to put it another way: I waste time only with the people I love. That’s why, as we approach the end of our days, we tend to live with an intensity and urgency we never had as teenagers. The author Isabel Allende, who has been nothing less than a guardian angel to me over the years and has given me some of the best advice of my life, told me a few weeks ago that she had remarried. For her, falling in love at 77 was surprisingly similar to falling in love at 18. “It’s all the same; you feel the same anxiety, the same longing to be with that person,” she told me. Only you want to move more quickly and don’t have the patience to pick silly fights.

I understand exactly how Isabel feels. For almost a decade now, Chiqui, my partner, has made my life more meaningful, filling it with love and wonderful memories. Our evening chats in the kitchen are times we set aside for essential things, times apart from everything else. And as each day passes, I find I have less time for everything else.

I don’t answer my cellphone every time it rings. But I always pick up — always — when my children, Paola and Nicolás, call. To me, half of being a parent is simply being there for your kids. When Paola was born, a friend told me that she would save me, and that has absolutely been the case. A child’s birth provides you with another level of understanding: From that moment onward, you know what is important and what is not. Nico and Pao brought order, meaning and joy into my life. Every time I can, I hug them and tell them I love them. And they make my day when they reply, “I love you too, Dad.”

I suppose my obsession with time is an acquired habit. But it really becomes a problem when you start running out of it. I am an agnostic. I truly have no clue what will happen when I die. I don’t know if I will get to see my father, whom I miss more with each passing day and for whom I have so many questions, or if I will see my grandfather Miguel, or my good friend Félix, or my dog Sunset and my cat Lola.

Perhaps that deep uncertainty is the reason I pester guests on my TV show with so many questions about our mortality. “Are you afraid of death?” I recently asked the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who is also an agnostic. “Well, there is a certain unease the more you feel that decisive moment approaching,” he replied with a smile. “But I think that converting at the very last moment would be extremely distasteful.”

I truly admire people who believe in the afterlife. Without all that annoying existential anguish, they probably lead more relaxed lives. In any case, I imagine heaven is pretty overcrowded these days, with billions of souls wandering around, given that 2.5 million years have passed since “animals much like modern humans first appeared,” according to Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” Heaven must not be a particularly exclusive club.

In the face of all these unknowns, there’s not much I can do but hold on tight to the present and make the most of it.

I can’t complain. I enjoy my life as an immigrant, a journalist and a dad. These three facets of my identity help me stand firm in the world, with a sense of rebelliousness and a healthy suspicion of authority. That’s the best way to stay young.

Besides, not many other people can boast of having lived 22,630 days and also having a mother who has lived more than 31,000 days. That is a huge privilege, and I am grateful for it. Every month or so, I take a couple of days off to escape the unstoppable news cycle and jump on a flight to Mexico City to visit my mom. I remind her of what she has forgotten, and she reminds me of what really matters. When we say our goodbyes, we do so as if for the last time. Of course, we always hope to meet again — and so far, we always have.

Turning a year older is an undeniable accomplishment. In these times of constant turmoil — of ever-spreading coronavirus, rising authoritarianism and increasingly pernicious social media — surviving one more day to add one more year to your life is nothing short of heroic. After all, growing old is far better than the alternative.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”